Culture Under Quarantine II
The Art of Creative Collaboration by Errol Michael Henry
The world is currently gripped by a global pandemic the like of which most of us have not previously experienced during our lifetimes. Before I proceed to state my views about what I believe represents a unique, if circumstantially uncomfortable opportunity – I must be clear about this singular point: as a fundamentally creative person I always try to find a positive, even when all of the ‘indicators’ suggest that victory is far off. People are being asked by national Governments to stay at home and only travel for essential purposes. This seismic shift in social behaviour will have ramifications for years to come and for some, there will be no going back to the ‘ways of old.’
“Going off to work.” For many that phrase involved a hurried trot to the tube, an unforgettable and regrettable intimate association with someone else’s smelly armpit on an overcrowded train. Covid-19 now means that for an increasing number of ‘homeworkers’ going to work involves a trip across the room to a computer that is armed to the gills with something called the Internet! Technology has been partly responsible for ‘social distancing’ for many years as people have increasingly chosen to text or email rather than call or visit people in person, yet tech is proving invaluable at bringing people together during a time when Coronavirus is tearing entire communities apart.
I hear people making comments about a ‘sea change’ in behaviour brought about by remote working and ‘digital’ collaboration, but for me, very little has changed to be honest. Traditionally, my work as a record producer took place in a studio chock full of vintage analogue equipment, a large format mixing console and lots of actual space into which actual people congregated to create music together. Due to all manner of ‘initiatives’ that made commuting less practical (congestion charging, extortionate parking fees, roadwork delays, loss of actual car parks and so forth) a few of the key people I regularly worked with approached me with a proposal.
John Thompson is one of the finest bass players in the world. He lives precisely 7 minutes from my front door, yet both of us would get into our respective vehicles, drive clear across London to record together in the same studio at the same time. John explained that the physical process of loading his gear into his car, plus the travel time meant that he actually had less creative energy to contribute to the process once he finally battled London traffic. We agreed that since technology had made recording at a reasonable and acceptable standard viable in environments other than professional recording studios, he could in fact stay at home, leave all of his instruments and amplifiers in situ – and send me the recordings he had made at home. The question is of course – can I trust John to do a god job without me being there? The answer is that if I didn’t trust his considerable natural ability, diligence, work ethic and creative endeavour – I wouldn’t want to know him at all let alone work with him: anywhere…
I determined a set of technical specifications that he should deploy to ensure that his recordings were entirely compatible with what I needed in order to complete my products to the highest standards that are consistent with my historical ‘brand values.’ So these days, John Thompson, Andrew Smith (who is without question one of the most gifted guitarists I have ever encountered, and I’ve worked with some of the best), Thomas Akuru Dyani (based either in South Africa or China) and Graham Harvey (another incredible musician) all send me their performances via the Internet and I then proceed to ‘do my thing.’ Production has always been about identifying ‘key attributes’ that contribute significantly to the overall sense of quality and Covid-19 isn’t going to change that. Even highly individualistic personalities understand that they are much better-off collaborating with other talented people. Being on ‘lock down’ cannot hinder creativity in its purest sense, but it can (and will) serve to ‘filter’ those who can quickly adapt to new realities from those who are too afraid to embrace change.
Agreeing to fully participate in the apparent break-up of my ‘A-team’ – as one-by-one they all retreated into a daily routine that involved going out rather less, also required me to change my own working reality: in its entirety. Ludicrous rent rises (a curse that has blighted many a creative hub…) resulted in the closure of my studio in 2018. Did this tragic scenario result in any reduction in my creative output or the quality of what was being produced? Absolutely not!I had already spent considerable amounts of time: ‘forcing’ ultra modern ‘tech’ to behave like my old school tools – where doing so was beneficial to the creative outcome. I used to work in a 2,000 square foot space, using a 64-channel mixing console – I now do precisely the same work: without leaving the comfort of my home.
The moral of this story is very simple indeed:
Knowing who to collaborate with is more important than where that interaction takes place. “Adapt or die” has always been true and Covid-19 won’t change that reality – it will merely prove beyond doubt who is willing and able, from who is manifestly not.
Had I refused to redeploy my experience, ability, tenacity and resolve in order to completely change the methodology I formerly used in order to obtain the required results, fiscally ruinous rent rises would have done me far more harm than Coronavirus ever could. “Adapt or die” was true long before the spectre of Covid-19 reared its ugly head and “adapt or die” will still be an immovable force – once good health returns to the wider world. Music is a luxury item: nobody actually needs it, so if I don’t make something that people consider ‘desirable’ – they just won’t buy it. That has been my economic reality for more than 3 decades, so I am acutely ‘tuned’ to the notion of ‘value.’ Companies and individuals who have relied upon blatant consumerism, rampant ‘bandwagon jumping’ and general excess, have much to fear from the post Covid revolution – everyone else should look ahead with hope and expectation.
The creative endeavour, constructive collaboration, the adoption of advantageous technology – plus a refusal to be defeated by anyone or anything that has always defined truly ‘creative’ people, will not be diminished by Coronavirus: or anything else for that matter. Adversity has always been a litmus test of sorts and in this new ‘locked down’ social dynamic, talented, hardworking, self-motivated people will find a way to ‘keep on keeping on.’ Covid-19 represents a serious challenge to the entire world, but it will be overcome in due course and those who used their time constructively and creatively during the (involuntary) opportunity afforded by a shocking health crisis – will most certainly view the post Covid-19 world without fear or trepidation.
Regardless of the question posed, the answer remains the same: creativity and cooperation will always triumph over all else – of that I remain unshakably certain.
Errol Michael Henry (also known as The Sound Principle), is a British musician, songwriter, producer and independent label owner. He established Intimate Records in 1989 as the UK’s foremost home of UKSoul and R&B. Dave Collins, Bobby Womack, Lulu, The Jones Girls, The Affair, Jaki Graham and Hil St. Soul are among the artists he’s written for and produced over his 30+ year career. For further information visit: www.emhglobamedia.com
‘Culture Under Quarantine’ is part of a series which will be published in 001 of Citizens of Hope Magazine. Available via @WorkinFashion.me 03.05.2020